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Flix at :48: 'The Whale' features persistent gloominess and stellar performances

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Brendan Fraser "The Whale" movie poster

In the past few years, many film critics and journalists have placed a spotlight on the importance of diverse representation on the big and small screens. Most people, and most film studios, interpret this call to action to mean racial diversity and nothing else. But the new film, "The Whale", reminds everyone of another kind of diversity that's also often lacking in Hollywood. A diversity of size.

"The Whale" is adapted from a play of the same name written by Samuel Hunter and first produced in 2012. Samuel Hunter also wrote the screenplay for this film which feels very personal and complex. In a dingy apartment in rural Idaho lives a morbidly obese man named Charlie (played by a wounded Brendan Fraser) who teaches college writing courses virtually through his laptop with his online camera turned off. As Charlie's physical health continues to decline, he reaches out to his estranged teenage daughter in an attempt to reconnect after he left her years before.

Shot entirely in this small apartment, with a cast of only 7 people, "The Whale" is a tragic intimate story of one man's grief and shame and how he fights against those emotions by making a grasp at redemption far out of his reach. As a master of darkness, director Darren Aronofsky ("Black Swan", 2010) sure knows how to imbue a film with hopelessness, pain, and negativity that feels bottomless. If you don't agree with me, please watch "Requiem for a Dream" (2000) or "The Wrestler" (2008).

With so much sadness and bitterness, I thought, "Did the Devil write this film?!" Then I learned afterward it's written by a gay man who grew up in a religiously repressive family. Then I thought, "Now it makes sense."

The gloomy colors and lighting match the gloominess of the characters. And the gloominess is so persistent, it starts to creep onto the audience. It is this gloominess that makes "The Whale" good instead of great, particularly with the scenes where the title character is binge eating. Magnifying the eating with loud chewing sounds, sweaty closeups and ominous music is too heavy-handed and leans toward fat-phobia. Those scenes say to viewers, "Look how gross it is when fat people eat! Isn't it sad too?!" I'm not even sure those eating scenes are necessary, because that's not what "The Whale" is about. (Or at least that's not what "The Whale" wants to be about.)

"The Whale" asks the question, "What if you don't get the forgiveness you ask for?" Everyone gives stellar performances in this film with Brendan Fraser ("Crash", 2004) and Hong Chau ("The Menu", 2022) being especially committed to the rawness of their roles.

Casey T. Allen is a native of Utah who graduated from Utah State University with a Bachelor's degree in English in 2007. He has worked in many capacities throughout USU campus and enjoys his time at UPR to continually exercise his writing.